OAK GLEN VILLAGE, CA (CT) — It was an unusual day at the office for American Mara Abbott at the Redlands Bicycle Classic.
For the second year in a row, Abbott, who races for Wiggle-Honda but is at Redlands on a composite Amy D. Foundation team, won the summit finish in Oak Glen to take the race lead.
This time around, however, the defending race champion stood on the podium nursing injuries from a mid-race crash that caught up with her after she crossed the finish line, 33 seconds ahead of Kristin Armstrong (Twenty16-Ridebiker).
Katie Donovan (Colavita-Bianchi) finished third on the stage, another 13 seconds back.
In addition to complaints of neck and shoulder pain and a cracked helmet, Abbott had bloodied abrasions on her left hip, shoulder, and elbow.
The post-race podium celebration was delayed for almost 30 minutes as Abbott was treated by the race’s medical staff, who recommended she go to the hospital for x-rays, which she said revealed a “small fracture” to the tip of her collarbone.
The crash that took Abbott down took place on a high-speed righthand turn at the bottom of a long descent. Several riders went down heavily, with one rider taken to the hospital.
“It was one of those [crashes] where a bunch of people went down, and I managed to get around them, but someone else did not, and took me out from behind,” Abbott said. “Considering how fast we were going… I landed on another person. I took a pretty good ding to my limited-edition Amy D. Lazer helmet.
“My shoulder and neck are pretty sore,” she continued. “I didn’t notice it as much when I was riding, but since then it has gotten pretty sore, so we’ll just see how that goes, and fingers crossed.”
The stage was a 61.8-mile (100km) race, with four laps on a 14-mile circuit before the 5-mile climb to Oak Glen Village.
Aggressive racing by Armstrong’s Twenty16-Ridebiker team, as well as the Hagens Berman-Supermint team of race leader Scotti Lechuga, meant that no breakaways went clear.
The crash happened on the third of four laps, so Abbott raced almost 25 miles after.
“There was a whole other lap, and then the climb was coming,” Abbott said. “And honestly, other than my neck and my shoulder, I came off pretty lucky. None of my bicycling parts got broken, and you’re just holding your arm in one position and so you just sort of keep going.”
Armstrong had predicted that Abbott would take the stage win, and was content to have kept her within 33 seconds.
“My team really took care of me today,” Armstrong said. “I don’t think I put my nose to the wind one time, which is unlike me, and very uncharacteristic. But I was delivered to the climb with Mara, rested, and I did my best. Mara had a great climb. I think she is the world’s best climber, and I lost 30 seconds to her.”
Friday brings a 7.1-mile (11.4km) out-and-back time trial, with a climb on the first half and descent to finish. Saturday, with rain in the forecast, is the well-known, technical Redlands Criterium, followed by Sunday’s infamous Sunset Loop, a hilly, technical circuit where the overall classification is often won or lost.
“I am going to have to make up a lot of time,” Armstrong said. “And there are a lot of time bonuses. I think Redlands is holding true to what it is all about: it’s going to be a race to the end.”
Asked about the crash, Abbott’s injuries, and the possibility that the race leader may not be able to continue, Armstrong was pragmatic.
“I was very lucky,” she said. “The pile-up happened in front of me. Sometimes, when you are floating a little bit, you’re able to leave a little bit of space. It looked like most people got up. Mara went down, which is always unfortunate. She is tough, though. I didn’t even realize she had crashed till after the race. She still had a great ride.
“Sometimes when you crash, you don’t realize the injuries you have until afterwards, because the endorphins kick in,” Armstrong said. “As competitors we just get back up and do what we have to do. Afterwards, our body starts responding with ‘what did you just do to me?’ I hope Mara can heal this evening and get some ice on her shoulder, and come back tomorrow, because I think it’s going to be a really fun race.”